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All A Man Can Ask
By Virginia Kantra
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHe was back.
Faye Harper froze, her paintbrush poised over the wet paper. Heart thumping, she stared through the glass sliding doors toward the lake. The bright blue sky was wide and empty, the water dark and still. Soft greens and deep ochers defined the shore. The only signs of life were the dragonflies dueling in the air and the ducks squabbling around the weathered dock.
And the man in the navy windbreaker trespassing on her patchy strip of lawn.
Faye was almost sure it was the same man she'd spotted yesterday. And the day before. Dark-haired and broad-shouldered, too old to be a student and too neat to be a vagrant. But something about him - the set of his head or the tense line of his back or the coiled energy of that long, wiry body - pushed all her warning buttons and raised the fine hair on the back of her neck.
A blob of ultramarine dripped off her brush and onto the wet paper. Faye hissed and grabbed a sponge to dab at the spreading blot. By the time she lifted the color and looked out her window again, the man was gone.
She inhaled slowly. Good. She'd fled to Eden to rest and to paint. She didn't need some tall, dark intruder disturbing her shaky peace.
Involuntarily she flexed her right wrist, testing for soreness. Thefracture was healed. The cast had been cut off a week ago. But some hurts could not be bandaged over.
Seventeen-year-old Jamal's frustrated face flashed through her mind. You can't help me. Can't nobody help me. The memory tightened her chest.
She drew another deep breath. Jamal was right, she told herself. She had only made things worse. She knew better now.
She narrowed her focus to her painting, tipping the board so the colors flowed down the paper, lightly working water into the still-damp wash to turn the blot into a cloud. When she was almost satisfied, she glanced over at the sky.
And saw that man again, down by the dock.
Misgiving spread through her. She really, really did not want to get involved in confrontations. In explanations. But this was her aunt's land. This was Faye's vacation. She couldn't risk either one being ruined by the actions of a stranger.
What was he up to now?
She snatched her camera off the sofa table. Sidling to the glass doors, she fumbled with the zoom until she had the trespasser in her sights. He was prowling the muddy bank above the bushes with that long-legged stride she was beginning to recognize. She couldn't see his face. He was turned toward the lake, where a breeze broke the flat surface with shards of gold. She glanced across the water to the luxury homes on the far shore.
And then he pivoted toward the cottage, and she identified the glint of binoculars.
Okay. That was it. The final insult. The last straw.
Maybe Faye hated confrontation, but she wasn't standing around - literally - while some pervert peeped through her windows.
Her pulse racing, she set down the camera, picked up the phone and dialed 911.
It was a long time before the police came knocking at her door.
Faye hugged her elbows and paced Aunt Eileen's square living room, her wet-on-wet wash drying, her concentration wrecked. She thought she heard a car approach and went to the door.
But when she looked out her windows again, an officer with short hair and a cowlick was crossing the grass. Even with his outline thickened by whatever it was policemen wore under their clothes, he looked young and strong. Faye was reassured.
But her intruder wasn't frightened off. He stood with one leg slightly behind the other, his right arm down by his side, and waited for the young officer to come to him. Like a gunslinger, Faye thought.
They talked. Faye saw that, though she couldn't hear what they said. At one point, her trespasser reached for his hip pocket, and she held her breath. The last three years had made her suspicious of any gesture that could produce a knife or a gun. But he only pulled out - well, it was hard to tell, squinting through the camera lens - but it looked like his wallet. He flipped it at the officer. They talked some more.
And then they started toward the house.
Her stomach sank. Oh, dear. She really didn't want ...
The young officer bypassed the steps that led up to the deck. The two men disappeared along the side of the house. Maybe they would just go away?
Her doorbell rang. No.
Faye brushed her skirt with trembling fingers and went to open the door.
"Excuse me, ma'am." The young officer loomed on her porch. "Would you mind stepping out for a moment?"
Well, of course she minded. But she summoned her courage and a smile from somewhere and unlocked the screen door. Cautiously she edged out onto the porch. Her gaze slid sideways to her intruder.
Everything about him looked hard - hard face, hard body, hard, dark eyes. She shivered. She knew she made an unimpressive adversary, five-foot-two and twenty-five, with a little girl's short haircut and an old lady's flowered skirt.
Officer Cowlick cleared his throat. "I'm sorry to bother you, ma'am, but I have to ask. Do you know this man?"
She looked away, snapped from the hold of those bold dark eyes by a welcome jolt of outrage. "Is that what he told you?"
"He said that you'd seen each other."
Faye crossed her arms against her negligible chest. Indignation warmed her voice. "And I suppose if he told you those binoculars were for bird-watching, you'd believe that, too."
Her trespasser grinned.
The officer frowned. "No, ma'am. But I did check his ID. His driver's license lists him as Alec - Alex -"
"Aleksy," the intruder said.
"Denko," the officer snapped.
She was confused. "I don't know any Denkos."
"He does." Denko's voice was deep and confident. His eyes were wickedly amused. "Jarek Denko is the chief of police in this town."
She arched her eyebrows. "And who are you? His long lost cousin?"
He looked at her with a faint, surprised respect. "His brother."
She didn't want his respect. She wanted him gone. She appealed to the officer. "I don't care who his brother is. I want him off my property."
"Yes, ma'am. What I need to know is, will you be filing a formal complaint? Because -"
"Oh, dear God." She saw it now, as Denko swiveled to face the officer. A faint bulge at his back, covered by his jacket. "He has a gun."
The officer pivoted.
"Easy." Denko stepped back, palms up and wide. "It's in the belt clip at my back. I'll let you pat me down, but I don't want you getting excited and grabbing for the gun."
He turned around slowly, his hands still in the air. The officer leaned in and slid the gun from its holster before ducking away.
"Just a suggestion," Denko said over his shoulder.
"Next time you might want to do the search before you bring a possible suspect up the complainant's porch steps."
Excerpted from All A Man Can Ask by Virginia Kantra Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.